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Worm burden: Egg counts crucial to worming strategy

Having a correct picture of worm burdens and the efficacy of wormers is a vital part of a sheep farm’s worming strategy. Farmers Guardian speaks to a farmer and a leading figure on the topic.


Understanding what is happening with regards to worms is crucial for sheep farmers to ensure their worming strategy is effective.


Andrew Pattison, farm centre manager for agricultural chemists R.M. Jones, Hay-on-Wye, says: “It is important sheep farmers look at what they are doing and manage the wormers and worms on-farm.


“You cannot do this if you have not got a correct picture of what is going on. Faecal egg counting [FEC] is the only way to do it.”


Mr Pattison, who is also a suitably qualified person (SQP) for the Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) group is animal health adviser for Herefordshire sheep farmer, Edgar Jones.


Mr Jones took on Wilmaston Farm in July last year and farms 700 ewes, 120 suckler cows and about 242 hectares (600 acres) of arable land.


Taking over the business, he looked to review ewe management, deciding the first stage was to change the breeding programme in order to improve overall flock performance.


The second stage was to take a look at pasture management.


He says: “We are highly stocked with ewes, running them on the same pasture year after year, and this has resulted in heavy pressure on the land.


“This has undoubtedly caused a heavy worm burden.


“We have, therefore, made changes in our pasture management strategy.


“We split up blocks of pasture with electric fencing and we rotate the flock on a 10-12 day basis so we then have fresh pasture for them to go back to. This has resulted in a reduction in the worm burden on those pastures, with sheep going back to rested grazing on a continuous basis.”


However, without the information delivered by FECs, Mr Jones says he would have been unaware of the nature of the burden or the success of the strategy. He noticed some of his lambs were not thriving and there was a certain amount of scouring present.


Consulting with his vet and Mr Pattison, they confirmed faecal egg counting would be a good way of developing a better understanding of exactly what was happening.


Mr Pattison says: “In this case we could see there was a large worm burden but, by doing a faecal egg reduction test a fortnight after the use of the wormer, we were able to demonstrate there was not a problem with resistance and the wormers were working.


“Some might say doing the test was a waste of time as it showed no resistance. Actually, it has helped us build up a picture of susceptibility to wormers on-farm and understand the type of worms so we can select our wormer carefully.


“By acquiring this information we have been able to develop a strategy and we may think about moving to some of the newer classes of wormers in order to preserve the efficacy of the products they are currently using, as they are working well.”


Mr Jones says: “It has been very important to us to do the tests. If you do not do FECs then you do not know where your flock stands.


It is possible to go from day to day without noticing the worm burden in the flock. At least this way you know where you are and you can decide what management strategy to use.”


The role of the SQP

Andrew Pattison has been working for AHDA Member R.M. Jones for some 30 years and now leads the animal health side of the business, including the team of 12 SQPs


He says: “I do not think many of our customers understand what it means. SQPs are advisers in the animal health trade and we are there to help farmers make an informed choice on the use of medicines, such as wormers, they use with sheep and cattle.


“In order to qualify as an SQP you have to register with the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority and go through an extensive training programme, including residential courses at agricultural colleges, followed by exams.


“Once qualified, we have to do continuous professional development and keep up our training in order to maintain our SQP status.”


While SQPs are not able to provide diagnosis, they can work with their clients on understanding the nature of the problem and developing a bespoke solution.


In Mr Jones’ case, Mr Pattison was able to provide sound advice on the use of FECs and the development of a solution.


Top tips from SCOPS

  • Check the weight

Millions of pounds worth of wormers are wasted every year because farmers underestimate the weight of sheep. This speeds up the development of resistance

  • Quarantine

Resistance to anthelmintics can be introduced with bought-in sheep. The correct quarantine treatments are essential for all incoming sheep to remove any resistant worms

  • Adult sheep

Mature sheep which are fit and healthy have immunity to most worms, which means the times when adult sheep need to be wormed are very limited

  • Use FECs

You can simply and cheaply check if you have resistance on your farm by taking dung samples for FECs, pre and post drenching. Talk to the SQPs at your local Animal Health Distributors Association outlet for more information

  • Timing

Most farmers who use FECs to monitor worm burdens use less anthelmintic without any loss in flock performance. In many cases, lambs do better as they are treated at the right time

  • Know your parasites

If you know which internal parasites you have on-farm,

you can target them more effectively and with the most appropriate product. This significantly reduces the chances of developing resistance on your farm

  • Pasture management

Drenching sheep and putting them straight on clean pasture increases the risk of anthelmintic resistance developing. Delaying the move or leaving some sheep untreated will reduce this risk

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